Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you’ve all had a fantastic holiday season. Before I get into the swing of things with 2020, I thought I’d take a few minutes to fill you in on my December. I also figured it might be fun to share some reflections on 2019 overall, so stay tuned for the top five lessons I learned last year.
December was a mixed month. On a high note, early winter is one of my favourite times in New York. There’s something magical about the snowfall and the holiday decorations are out of this world. I’ve enjoyed checking out seasonal festivities such as the famous Winter Village in Bryant Park (aka the Christmas markets). Here’s a picture of me getting amongst the pink Christmas tree display at the Moxy Hotel!
One of the other things I like about being in New York over the holidays is that the city empties out. Since half of the population aren’t from NYC originally, most people go home. It causes this strange, peaceful calm to wash over the city that kind of makes you feel like you’re living in an apocalypse. I find the change from the constant hustle refreshing and it provides the perfect opportunity to check out tourist attractions without them being packed.
A recent highlight was MoMA PS1: the Museum of Modern Art’s cooler, controversial little sister. PS1 is actually one of Outfit’s clients, so it was great to finally have a look around. There was an exhibit on display about the USA’s involvement in Iraq called ‘Theatre of Operations’, which I found incredibly moving. I studied this topic extensively at uni and it was powerful to see the critical analyses presented visually rather than in a lecture or article. If anybody is interested in the politics of war, this is definitely one for you.
My second destination was the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. I was quite excited to go there given I know practically nothing about Native American history. The whole place had a sombre feel to it and the exhibits told a tragic story of colonisation. The most interesting part for me was seeing the parallels with Māori culture in New Zealand. For example, I learned that greenstone is a taonga for Native Americans too. I left feeling compelled to better educate myself on what has happened in this land.
On the flipside, I’ve found it tough being away from my family this month. Going home for Christmas wasn’t really an option financially and I struggled with feelings of guilt and powerlessness. People have told me that it’s part of the expat experience and see the heartache as a rite of passage. This is somewhat comforting, yet I also wonder if it might be false economy. Perhaps the energy I expended feeling sad could have been better invested elsewhere. I’ve made visiting my family a big goal for 2020, so fingers crossed I can achieve it.
Speaking of 2020, let’s take a step back for a moment. 2019 has been a massive year for me. I graduated university, got admitted to the Bar as a barrister and solicitor, moved to New York and landed my dream job at Outfit. Underneath the smiling social media posts, there have been many obstacles along the way – some of which I’ve shared with you. Taking all of that into consideration, here are the top five lessons I learned in 2019.
1. Some things are harder than you expect
This might sound obvious. However, I am your typical Type A personality who likes to plan everything in meticulous detail (I voluntarily spent four hours yesterday creating my 2020 budget). When I relocated to New York in June, I thought I had a fairly good idea of what to expect. I knew from my UN days that it wasn’t going to be easy. But I was unaware that my definition of difficult was about to be challenged altogether.
The truth is that you have no idea what life is going to throw at you. You can do all of the planning you want and still not predict that you’re going to sprain your ankle on Breakneck Ridge or live in an apartment where strangers rattle your windows while you sleep. When those things happened, I had to let go of the idea that I could foresee every possibility. My focus now is on being able to adapt to the unexpected.
2. A little kindness goes a long way
That segues into my next point. When I was going through some rough times, people showed me small acts of kindness that made an enormous difference. Whether it was late-night phone calls from my friends in Australia or an orchid appearing on my desk after I mentioned I wanted to buy one, it was reassuring to know that people cared. Realising I wasn’t alone gave me the strength to keep going.
There are two things this taught me. First, reach out when you see someone struggling. It might only be a chapter for you, but for them it could be the whole book. And second, I am lucky to have lots of amazing people in my life. Thank you to everyone who has been there for me this year – wherever in the world you are.
3. No one cares what you did before you came to New York
This is a big one! At the start of 2019, I was still a university student. I had been studying for six years and had come to know the system. I got A+ grades, my LinkedIn glittered with internships and I had more than ten graduate job offers on the table. I was regularly getting invited to speak about my journey. At the risk of sounding arrogant, it felt like the world was my oyster.
Then I arrived in New York. One of the first events I went to was a party with about 40 friends from the UN. As I caught up with everyone, I remembered that this city is full of people who’ve achieved way more than I have, often starting from positions of far less privilege.
I’ve come to accept that starting my career in New York means starting over. None of the things that make me stand out at home are special here. I have to show up every day willing to prove myself from scratch. I am a small fish.
4. The business world works in weird ways
Back when I was a student, I assumed that people who succeeded in business must just be really good at what they do. Perhaps they created a unique product or service, and had the charisma or managerial skills to sell it.
I’ve since discovered that the road to success can actually be more complicated. For instance, I’ve been noticing lately that a lot of high-profile businesspeople seem to be relationship experts. They know how to relate to their staff, listen to their customers and charm their investors.
The lesson I’ve taken from this is that technical ability is not always enough. Winning deals might mean taking the time to wish someone a happy birthday or inviting a client out for drink. A holistic approach could maximise my chances of making it big.
5. Doing what you love is worth the sacrifices
As you guys know, I spent a lot of this year trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my career. I wrote last month about why I chose Outfit and explained how being part of a start-up is like being on a rollercoaster. One minute you’re riding on a high and the next it can all come crashing down. I’m sure anyone who has ever done it will agree that inevitably you have to ask yourself whether the sacrifices are worth it.
This year I learned that my answer to that question is yes. Getting to wake up every day and do something I love surrounded by people I look up to outshines the stability of any corporate job. Plus, nothing beats the excitement of growing a company. I never really feel like I’m working (except for one day where I tried to build a financial model and quickly recalled that I hadn’t done math since 2012). I am so grateful that I found the courage to leave behind the safety of a traditional path for one less trodden.
Overall, 2019 has been one hell of a year. The buzzword I would probably use to describe it is ‘resilience.’ While I’m glad to see it go, I’m excited for what lies ahead. Thanks for sticking with me and reading my blog for a whole year! Here’s to hoping 2020 is the best one yet.